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Prelude to Dusk - Part I by Travis Anderson

The Spy, The Rebel, The Doppelganger, The Traitor, The Soldier, The Exile, The Tinkerer,
The Mercenary, The Stray, and one ship shared by all. The tale has merely begun...

Chapter One

Three Cardassian Galor-class cruisers pursued the various Maquis raiders. Aboard the Ju'day-class raider, Indomitable II, Aric Tulley swore in several different languages as the Viper's ID marker disappeared from his plot. Tom Reynolds had been a veteran of both the original and new Maquis...and a close personal friend. Tulley's story was one of betrayal.

First he'd been betrayed by his own forces and handed over to the Federation authorities. Then the "democratic" Cardassian government had betrayed him. Next came Brin Macen, after Tulley had reformed the Maquis, and Macen had betrayed him. Then his Omicron allies disappeared and left him facing an entire Cardassian Order. Finally, his original benefactors in the Federation abandoned him.

Tulley had had enough. He ordered his ships to split up and make their way across the Federation border as best they could and to rendezvous at Gilchrest IV. Gilchrest was far enough within Federation borders that it wouldn't be part of the initial search pattern. It was time to take his fight back to those that had launched his crusade.

On Earth, in the city of Paris, France, Sarah Nevil sat behind the desk of the President of the United Federation of Planets and idly perused some legislation the Federation Council had set before her. She didn't know why she bothered reading it. She already knew she'd veto it. She also realised the Council would probably muster enough votes to override her veto.

Nevil had been elected on a platform of curbing the ever expanding bureaucracies of the Federation. Politicians had little real say in the daily affairs of their constituents. That was the realm of the bureaucrat. Nevil herself wanted to take the Federation back to a simpler time. A time when the issues weren't so confused by the plurality.

Her aide chimed her desk comm and asked to enter. Grateful for the distraction, Nevil released the door's locks. One couldn't be too careful when one was the leader of the largest government in the Alpha Quadrant.

Hans Zitter, her Interstellar Security Adviser, strode into the room and handed her a stack of padds, "Here's the latest reports from the Cardassian border. Both the Cardassians and our sensor buoys along the border report that the Maquis fled from the DMZ into Federation territory last night."

"Remember Hans, it could have been the middle of the day in whatever system they were fleeing from." Nevil playfully chided him. She respected Zitter's opinion and enjoyed his personal company, a fact that she'd relished last night. They had nearly identical goals for the Federation, which made them more than allies. They were comrades in arms.

Nevil waved her hand through the air, "Anyway, who all got away?"

"Most of the rebels were captured." Zitter reported.

"Too bad." Nevil pouted.

"However, three or four Maquis raiders did affect an escape." Zitter replied, "One ship in particular was transporting the Maquis Commander, Aric Tulley."

Nevil wore a sly grin, "And where is he headed?"

"I should think he would approach Pytor. After all, Mr. Boromov was his primary contact with our organisation."

"I don't like it, "Pytor's has his own agenda. Alert Starfleet Command." Nevil ordered.

"You want to turn Pytor in?" Zitter asked in disbelief.

"Not Pytor, but I want Tulley contained." Nevil explained, "Inform Starfleet to utilise Intelligence agents for this. Perhaps that Special Investigations Division of theirs. Implore them to send their best."

Nevil laughed, "They should muddle things enough to exonerate poor Pytor."

"Another thing..." Zitter began and Nevil laced her fingers and placed her chin upon them in anticipation, "Do you think we could pick up where we left off last night?"

Nevil's eyes twinkled, "Of course. But we mustn't get caught together"

Zitter laughed, mistaking her comment for a jest, "I'll just have to be careful then."

"More than you know." Nevil's eyes turned dark.

The Solstice gently lowered herself onto the Outbound Ventures landing pad situated next to the main offices. After the thrusters ceased firing and the dust settled, Macen and T'Kir drove up in an aircar. The Solstice's primary hatch opened and the gangway extended and lowered itself to the ground. Six undercover Starfleet officers stepped out and descended down the gangplank.

A seventh emerged. He was a familiar and welcome sight. Hal Dracas had been away from the team for some time now and he was coming home at last, even if it were only for a visit. His stay would be extended one in comparison to that of the rest of the delivery team. Macen's Chief Engineer, the Orion woman named Parva, was on Andor for a special consulting job. Dracas was here to fill in for her just as she had once filled in for Dracas.

"Commander," the impossibly young human lieutenant that had commanded the Solstice during her transit said, holding out his hand, "it's an honour to meet you, sir."

Macen could feel T'Kir's smirk from behind him, "Is it?"

"Oh, yes sir!" the lieutenant bubbled over, "You're a legend at the SID!"

"That and you bring us more work than any other agent." a Bolian engineer happily said.

"By the way," the lieutenant leaned in closer to Macen, "is she really a Vulcan?"

Macen looked back over his shoulder and saw T'Kir standing there, gently laughing, "Yes, she is. She also happens to be my wife and she's telepathic. She's probably already read your mind and discovered whatever sordid little fantasy you just played out in your mind."

The lieutenant turned scarlet and T'Kir nearly doubled over, "I think it's best if we go now. We have a transport to catch."

Macen grinned, "I think you'd better. You don't want to miss that runabout. There won't be another one leaving for several days."

The lieutenant marched his crew out of the area and Dracas walked up to Macen, still chuckling, "I see you haven't lost your way with people."

"Comes with experience." Macen replied. He was a four hundred and thirty-six year old El-Aurian. In his time before the Borg assimilation of his homeworld, Macen had travelled across the Delta, Beta, and Alpha Quadrants, at least as far as Sector 001. Upon arrival in the Alpha Quadrant the second time as a refugee, Macen enlisted in Starfleet. This was due partly to honour the sacrifice of the legendary James T. Kirk and partly to prevent the dispersal of a forbidden El-Aurian technology.

Most of all it was because Macen had always been an explorer. Starfleet was the Federation's main tool for exploration so to Starfleet he went. Along the way, he'd been recruited as an analyst for Starfleet Intelligence. When the Border Wars with Cardassia began, Macen was sent to the field and a premier field agent was born.

"Hal," T'Kir walked up and kissed Dracas on the cheek, "we've missed you. How's Kiv?"

Kiv Rever was Dracas' partner. Dracas had spent a long time wrestling with his homosexuality and had only recently "come out of the closet".

"He's good. He sends his regards and wants me to tell you to send me back home quickly."

Macen and T'Kir both laughed and Macen shook his head, "You know that all depends on our next assignment."

Dracas looked up at Macen. Macen stood at 1.83 metres tall; Dracas was only 1.78 metres tall. Dracas had dark brown hair and a deep tan from his time in the sun. His time on Ba'ku had reverted his age to his late thirties. Normally habitually clean shaven, Dracas currently sported a week's worth of beard.

This did not go unnoticed by Macen, who sported a moustache and goatee, "What's with the facial hair?"

"Kiv thinks it looks sexy, so..." Dracas blushed.

"Doesn't Starfleet have a problem with it?" T'Kir asked.

"Not if I grow it out a little longer and call it a neatly trimmed beard." Dracas revealed.

T'Kir looked to Macen for confirmation and he raised his hands, "Don't look at me. I had a full beard when I joined Starfleet. I only trimmed it down when I joined Starfleet Intelligence."

T'Kir looked dubious and Macen shrugged, "I can show you pictures."

Macen and T'Kir themselves presented a study in contrasts. T'Kir stood at 1.68 metres and had shoulder length raven hair and an olive complexion. She had large sapphire blue eyes and a full mouth and "bee stung" lips. Her cheekbones were high and her nose was slightly upturned at the end. Her figure, though slender, was voluptuous.

Macen had short, reddish-gold hair with a spiky part. His complexion was fair and his eyes were blue-green and shifted shades with whatever he wore. He was slender but had the advantage of daily workouts with a former Angosian super-soldier and his musculature reflected it.

Whereas Dracas wore a nondescript khaki jumpsuit, Macen and T'Kir habitually wore the same outfits. They had dozens of the same clothes replicated and sitting in their drawers and hanging in their closets. Macen favoured grey crew neck tee shirts and black cargo pants, with black leather boots. As the weather or situation required it, Macen also added a black leather flight jacket to the mix.

T'Kir generally stuck with an emerald green Henley, black leather pants and black leather boots. She frequently added a black leather longcoat to the ensemble. Both were never without their holster/utility belts. Macen's was rigged for his right hand, T'Kir's for her left. Over a decade's worth of experience had taught them the price of going into a situation unarmed.

"So, are ready to come to the office and greet all the folks?" Macen asked.

"Yah," T'Kir quipped, "the whole team turned out for you."

"Let's get the meet and greet over with then." Dracas pretended to complain.

The Council of Five was gathered together in their secure bunker. Every member was present except one. Bill Ross was attending via ultrasecure holographic interface. The present cast of characters included the two newest members of the Council. Robert Tavar Johnson and Edward Noyce had become members after the departures of Edward Jellico and Jaroess Marrine. Noyce had bumped Marrine out of his seat in order to take a more direct role in the Council's affairs.

Johnson had come to the Council after the C-in-C had decided it was time to have a more diplomatic presence aboard the ultra top secret security committee. The Council only answered to the C-in-C, select members of the Federation Council and the UFP President's Interstellar Security Advisor. Not even the President was privy to its discussions and resolutions.

Johnson was Starfleet's envoy to the Federation Diplomatic Service. The Admiral had made a career of knowing the shifting tide of interstellar politics and being able to reach the best agreement possible out of them. Noyce was the Director of Starfleet Security and a friend of Johnson's since the latter's days as a starship captain.

Noyce's former hard line tendencies had greatly mellowed through his association with the idealistic and altruistic Johnson. Johnson, however, was the ultimate pragmatist when it came to interstellar affairs. He was a man committed to his principles and demanded a realistic approach to seeing them actualised. Both men generally represented a faction on the Council pitted against the tendency for "ends justifying the means" thinking from Alynna Nechayev and Amanda Drake.

The Directors of Starfleet Intelligence and the Special Investigations Division dealt with a grittier aspect of the Federation and the worlds beyond than either Johnson or Noyce. In their opinion, they should be given carte blanche authority to operate as they please. As long as the Prime Directive remained inviolate, the mentor and protégé had no difficulties with how the results were achieved.

It often meant that Bill Ross, Commander of the Bajoran Theatre, had to cast the deciding vote. Such events were fraught with peril since Nechayev was famous for nursing grudges and playing politics. The tensions on the Council, normally high, were higher than normal recently because of events revolving around the SID's star agent.

Courts-martialled and busted in rank, Macen had slipped into the Starfleet Reserves and contracted with the SID as a privateer. Manoeuvred by Edward Jellico, Macen and the other privateers had been forced out of the SID. Three years later, with Johnson and Noyce's admission to the Council, Macen was readmitted to the SID's reinstated privateer program. In the last month, Macen had been reined in through reactivation of his commission at Johnson and Noyce's insistence.

Other tensions derived from the increasing friction between member worlds of the Federation. This was a particular concern of Johnson's and he was scheduled to brief the assembly on recent matters. First to speak was Drake concerning her recent orders forwarded from the President's office.

"We all know the remnants of the revived Maquis crossed the Federation border at 01:38 local time." Drake began, "My department has received word through the office of the Interstellar Security Advisor himself that the ultimate destination of the Maquis still at large, and this includes the Maquis Commander, Aric Tulley, is Risa."

"Risa?" Noyce questioned, "Why go to Risa? Are they desperate for a vacation?"

"It does seem an unlikely hideout for wanted fugitives on the run." Johnson concurred.

"The ISA's brief included information implicating a casino operator on Risa of dealing in more than poker." Drake's comment was aimed to appeal to Johnson and Noyce's well known affection for the game, "He's suspected of dealing in arms, munitions, and intelligence reports. A veritable one stop shopping centre for warfare or illicit means."

"That's ridiculous. Risans are only concerned with pleasure." Noyce scoffed, "They'd have no interest in weapons. They're amongst the most peaceful races in the galaxy."

"This particular businessman is human." Drake reported, "He purchased the casino and the island is resides upon from the previous owner when he retired."

"Did the ISA mention where he'd derived this intelligence from?" Noyce asked.

"He stated that it came from Federation Security sources, not Starfleet assets." Nechayev answered, "I can vouch for the latter part of that assertion."

"So what does the ISA expect you do to with this data?" Johnson wondered.

"I've received orders to launch an immediate investigation into this Pytor Boromov and subsequently apprehend the Maquis sheltering with him." Drake answered, "The orders came with a Presidential seal and were countersigned by the C-in-C."

"So it seems our participation is moot." Ross spoke at last.

"Who are you sending, or should I just ask when you're dispatching Commander Macen?" Johnson asked dryly.

"Well," Drake grinned, "my orders did specifically state that I should send my best agents."

"Your pet mavericks you mean." Noyce retorted.

"Come now, Edward," Nechayev chided, "I seem to recall a few maverick stunts Robert here has pulled yet he has your full endorsement, not to mention the fact that he has a seat on this Council."

"Point taken Alynna." Noyce conceded.

"If your report is finished Amanda," Johnson said, "I'd like to proceed with my own briefing. It seems the policies of the current President are once again creating strife amongst the alien members of the Federation. They're beginning to feel as though they're second-class citizens. Only the Diplomatic Corps and Starfleet's visible presence and support are smoothing things over for now."

"Are saying that member worlds are considering seceding from the Federation?" Ross asked.

"Not formally, but dissident factions of the various governments are putting that idea on the table even as we speak. How seriously its being taken depends upon the world it's presented on." Johnson explained.

"Is there anything we can do?" Noyce asked.

"It would require major policy reversals to quell the growing dissatisfaction." Johnson answered, "We at Starfleet aren't responsible for creating domestic policy, only for enforcing it. And it's been my long held belief that Starfleet is too heavily relied upon in this role. We should be an organ of exploration first and foremost. Our military and civil enforcement duties should be secondary concerns."

"That may have been feasible before the Dominion War," Nechayev replied, "but now the citizenry is relying upon Starfleet to make them feel secure."

"That's what the planetary militias and Defence Forces are for." Johnson argued, "Bajor is maintaining its Militia at full strength."

"And it, as so many Planetary Defence forces go, is woefully outgunned by even the Orion Syndicate." Nechayev protested, "Bill, tell him if I'm wrong."

Sadly, Ross shook his head, "She's telling the truth Robert. Starfleet has provided the bulk of the Federation's military forces for nearly two hundred years now, ever since the Romulan War. The member worlds provide token forces to make the citizens feel better but the real capital and personnel are invested in Starfleet."

"That's what needs to change. If the individual member worlds provided for more of the defence then they wouldn't be at the mercy of some dilettante President who's decided to rework two hundred years of peaceful cooperation." Johnson said heatedly.

"What do you propose we do?" Nechayev asked tiredly, "You've already stated that it's not up to us to set domestic policy, so where does that leave us?"

"We could prepare for the worst." Johnson said grimly, "If member worlds do start to secede, we need to be prepared for that contingency. You and Amanda could cast a wider net and start listening in on the pulse of the people and see how they're being affected. And for God's sake, find out what's going on in the President's office?"

"You want to spy on the President?" Nechayev asked coldly.

"No." Johnson replied, "But I'm betting some of Amanda's people could ask a few well placed questions."

"We probably could without raising too much suspicion." Drake allowed.

"That's all I'm asking for." Johnson subsided, "Now for whoever has the next piece on the agenda..."

"Well, I have more to add onto this Maquis issue since it took place in my command zone." Ross spoke up, "The Cardassians are doing a suburb job of handling and treating their prisoners. I would say that they're living up to the Deneva Accords and that..."

Macen was enjoying the reunion party when his comm badge chirped. He tapped it on its location on his belt, "Macen here."

"Brin, it's Christine," Christine Pike was Outbound Venture's liaison with Starfleet, "you have a message you may want to step into your office to receive."

"Thanks Chris." Macen said before the circuit closed.

"Ohhh, I'm coming too." an irritated T'Kir said and stalked off in Macen's wake. When they arrived, Macen's comm screen flashed the message, "Incoming Transmission". Macen activated the comm and sat back in his chair while T'Kir curled up on the sofa.

Amanda Drake's features fill the screen, "Brin, I have a mission for you."

"Why isn't it ever, 'Brin, I'm just calling to see how you're doing?' or 'Hope you're having a nice day'? It's always 'Brin, I have a mission for you'?"

"Are you having a nice day?"

"I was."

"Sorry about this but we have an emergency?" Drake informed him.

"When don't 'we'?" Macen asked.

"Aric Tulley is loose and we think he's on Risa." Drake said.

"What? Working on his tan?" Macen scoffed.

"This is serious Macen." Drake grew cold, "I'll upload all our files to you. You're on your way to Risa in twelve hours or less. You'll rendezvous with a Federation starship in the Gorias system and pick up a passenger."

"A passenger?" Macen was dubious.

"This is a direct order from the Council of Five."

"Understood." Macen replied, once more the consummate professional.

"So we ring up Shannon, get beamed back aboard the Obsidian, and the crew takes a vacation on Risa?" T'Kir asked.

"We're not taking the crew." Macen explained, "We're taking the Solstice. The Investigative team, minus Tom, will go to Risa and figure this mess out. Hopefully it'll just be a lot of rollicking in the surf."

"I can rollick with the best of `em!" T'Kir said enthusiastically.

"Let's go tell Tom the bad news." Macen rose and T'Kir uncurled from the couch like a cat, and departed the office. Macen led the way back to the hangar space where the party was underway.

"Where are we off to this time?" Radil Jenrya asked.

"Risa." Macen answered the Bajoran mercenary turned Security Specialist.

There were some cheers over that but Macen quelled them, "We will be working. Tom, you'll stay with the Obsidian and deploy her on our planned convoy escort mission. Lisea will act as your XO."

Danan frowned and Riker set to work, "Why Lees, why not Shannon Forger?"

"Shannon doesn't want the role. We learned that the hard way once already." Macen rebutted, "Tom, I need you to do this. I want the opposition thinking we're a half a million light years away while we're really in the backyard."

Riker grinned, "You can count on us." Danan nodded her support.

"I guess all that's left is grabbing your gear and stowing it aboard the Solstice. We lift off in six hours people. Whatever you haven't packed in that time gets left behind."

"All right, people!" yelled the burly Angosian, Rab Daggit, "Let's move!"

Riker looked back at Macen, "How dangerous is this one?"

Macen shrugged, "It's the SID. I'm assuming its life or death even if it is on paradise."

"Safe bet." Riker chuckled wryly.

"Take care of the ship and crew Tom."

"You know I will. They're my crew too." Macen's XO said and led Danan out of the hangar.

Macen could see why Tom Riker's doppelganger of a "brother" had already carved out a legend for himself amongst Starfleet personnel.

"Ready to pack?" T'Kir asked, wearing a coy smile.

"Why do I get the feeling we're not going to do much packing?"

"Because we're going to Risa and this is your lucky day."

"And last night?"

"You were still breathing. I had to reward you." she said as her smile blossomed. It was a testimony to the hazardous lifestyle they'd chosen for themselves. They exited the hangar hand in hand and headed for their flat in Barrinor's capital city.

 

Chapter Two

In the Office of the UFP President, Sarah Nevil was taking a meeting with Zitter and her Chief of Colonial Affairs, Gerard Zimbalist. Zimbalist was delivering his report of recent Federation Council deliberations to the President and ISA.

"The Council is willing to grant probationary member status to 'mature' colonies that have been settled for a century or more." Zimbalist revealed, "They have abandoned their position that colonial settlements must be completely self sustaining in light of the fact that so few Member Worlds are in our modern economy."

"I don't like it." Nevil replied with a frown, "I campaigned on the platform of increasing Federation membership by granting full membership to our colonies, a fact that has been overlooked by your predecessors for nearly two centuries now. We can't keep leaving these worlds in a bureaucratic limbo."

"With all due respect, ma'am, you have more support with the people than with the Council." Zimbalist warned, "The Council sees your agenda as a threat to their voice in the Council. Humans settled most of these colonies. That would grant a majority of Council seats to humans."

"Tell the objecting Member Worlds to start a more aggressive colonising stance if they wish to offset the majority." Zitter growled, "These worlds were settled by human pioneers that risked everything to start new civilisations on new worlds. Isn't that part of the Federation's credo?"

"Part of Starfleet's credo is to seek out new life and new civilisations." Zimbalist countered, "The Federation's unspoken charter is for it to expand its borders through assimilation while protecting individual rights."

"You make us sound like the Borg." Nevil said dryly, "No one is contesting that the Federation has proven to be the best and most cooperative form of allied government for over one hundred and fifty member worlds. I simply want to enfranchise the colonies and protectorate regions."

"A goal that I find laudable." Zimbalist was himself a colonial, "And given enough time, I feel we can accomplish it. But time is the factor we need if we wish to accomplish this without too much friction with the Council."

"Do what you have to do with the existing regional colonial voting blocs to push our agenda." Nevil ordered, "I'll encourage our allies to put pressure on undecided Members to form a coalition so that we can pass our initiative."

"Do you really think we can manage a majority?" Zimbalist asked.

"Both sides have forty-seven percent of the Council's votes secured. Whoever captures the remaining six percent carries the day. That's the beauty of democracy."

"As you say Madam President." Zimbalist agreed, "If there's nothing else, I have a meeting the representatives of the Alcarian and Goenovian colonies to prepare for."

"Do what you have to Gerard." Nevil said with a smile.

After Zimbalist had departed, Zitter spoke, "The key to this is the Federal Committee. If we can convince a majority of the Committee then they'll sway the Council."

The Federal Committee was comprised of nine members of the Council, duly elected by the Council, who held posts of tremendous power, equal to that of the Presidential Cabinet posts. The Committee members held veto powers over the bureaucratic decisions of the Cabinet. Each Committee member in turn voted one of their own members to hold the office of Chancellor. The Chancellor was an advisor to the President and the President's liaison to the Federation Council.

Each Committee member represented a large voting bloc of the Council's membership. Each member represented dozens of votes. The Federation currently consisted of one hundred and fifty-seven worlds. Each planet received two Council representatives.

A Committee member had to receive dozens of votes in order to qualify as a front runner for the post. The nine highest vote getters received their seat. The elections were staggered since the council had begun with three seats. The others had been added as the Federation grew.

"We already have four of the Committee's endorsements and their voting blocs' support, Hans." Nevil remarked, "In reality we only need one more to sway the undecided Committee members. I'd really prefer to sway another two Committee members just to be certain."

"I'll see what I can do about that." Zitter promised.

"Hans, your position doesn't allow for you to involve yourself in non-strategic domestic issues." Nevil sighed.

"My position makes me extremely influential, Sarah." Zitter replied, "It's time I exert some of that influence."

"Just be careful."

Zitter grinned, "You seem to be telling me that a lot lately." With that said, he rose and left the office. Nevil sighed and worried about what her impetuous lover might get himself into and how it might affect her administration.

The SID investigative team was ready for departure in four hours and fifty-three minutes. In fact, Macen and T'Kir were the last to board and stow their gear. Daggit and Radil had stocked the ship's armoury with surplus Bajoran arms and all the crewmembers wore Bajoran phaser pistols. The Sickbay had come stocked but Kort insisted on inventorying it. Dracas returned to Engineering finding that the antimatter inducer was where he'd left it.

Daggit, Grace, Macen and T'Kir went to the bridge and assumed their station. Grace had the helm. Beside her, T'Kir manned Ops. Behind them, Macen was seated in the command chair. Behind and above Macen, Daggit stood post at Tactical. The layout of the bridge closely resembled that of a Galaxy-class' battle bridge.

No one said a word about Macen and T'Kir's tardiness in comparison to the others. Everyone on the team knew, or at least suspected, that T'Kir's emotional instabilities found one harmless outlet in her ardour. Her raw, untamed sensuality occasionally threatened to consume Macen, but he'd pledged himself to perseverance. Besides which, he found it fun. They'd had their rough moments though and now it was time to focus on the mission at hand.

"Bring impulse engines on line." Macen ordered.

"Impulse engines, aye." Grace responded and set to work.

"Ops, what is our status?" Macen enquired.

"All systems show green, sensors are registering." T'Kir replied.

"Tactical, weapons status?"

"All weapons fully charged and loaded. Magazines are full on all launchers."

The Solstice possessed three photon torpedo launchers, two forward and one aft. There were four phaser banks. Each bank had the power of a Type X phaser strip. They were located on the saucer section, two dorsal and two ventral mounts.

"Sickbay, status?"

"Fully stocked, Captain."

"Radil, what's the status on the armoury?"

"Everything's stowed and all powerpacks are charged." came her reply.

"Good, prepare for lift off." Macen ordered, "Engineering, are you ready for full impulse and charging the warp nacelles with plasma?"

"On your command." Dracas replied confidently, "Ready for maximum warp after that."

"We'll settle for warp 6, Chief." Macen informed him.

"T'Kir, contact Traffic Control and request permission to lift." Macen settled back in his chair and awaited T'Kir's reply.

"We've been cleared for immediate departure and a priority transit through the system." T'Kir reported.

"Hannah," Macen addressed Grace by her first name, "take us up and out of the system. Make for the Gorias system."

"You got it!" Grace remarked enthusiastically.

Using the manoeuvring thrusters, Grace lifted the ship. She then applied half impulse and the ship rocketed upward in a vertical climb. After clearing the stratosphere, Grace shifted to full impulse Once they broke orbit, they charged the nacelles with warp plasma and departed the Barrinor system at Warp 6.

Noyce stepped into Nechayev's office. Nechayev's aide had announced his presence so she was expecting him.

"This is an unanticipated pleasure, Edward." Nechayev said as the younger admiral walked in.

"I never know if it is, Alynna." Noyce admitted, "This feud between us has to stop. We should be natural allies given our respective positions."

"I know." Nechayev sighed, "I was upset by your countervote on whether or not to keep our irregular forces in the SID completely independent. Reactivating their commissions eliminates our plausible deniability. I took my anger too far. For that I apologise."

"Apology accepted." Noyce said and took one of the seats before her desk.

"Now, what were saying about being natural allies?" Nechayev asked.

"Your department, being Starfleet Intelligence, ascertains and compiles threat analysis reports. My department, Starfleet Security, devises action plans based upon these analyses." Noyce explained, "You've gotten too good at keeping secrets Alynna. You rarely divulge all of your reasoning behind a proposed action that you've set before Command or the Council of Five."

Nechayev grimaced but motioned for Noyce to continue, "If you'd come to me before a Council session, and bring all of your data forward, we could reach a consensus between ourselves. When a consensus isn't an option, I'd be in a better position to explain why."

"Will your protégé follow your lead?" Nechayev asked.

"Often." Noyce confirmed, "But Robert is his own man. In the end he follows his own convictions."

"I have the same trouble with Amanda." Nechayev chuckled, "Fortunately our convictions are closer together than most."

"Her career has been stellar." Noyce acknowledged, "She's the youngest admiral since Kirk."

"She's earned it." Nechayev pointed out, "Her instincts are as sharp as a bat'leth."

"So where is your favourite daughter?" Noyce laughed.

"En route to a rendezvous with Macen. She has information that has to be hand delivered."

"Are you certain that Brin Macen is the best agent you have for this mission?" Noyce enquired.

Nechayev bristled, "Brin Macen is the most capable agent we have. The SID's success rate plummeted during his enforced absence."

"A well established fact that earned his reinstatement with the agency." Noyce conceded, "But he constantly seems in need of reining in. He exceeds his mandate more often than not."

"And always for good reason." Nechayev said primly.

"Are you so certain?" Noyce replied, "We recently had to clip his wings because you sent him to Harbinger to baby-sit some Vulcan archaeologists and he started a shooting match with the very Romulans he was supposed to pacify. Then he went haring off and fought a war against the Omicron with the assistance of the unallied Kelvans."

"In defence of the Federation and her allies which were getting hammered by Omicron raiding parties and their proxies." Nechayev declared.

"I'm not saying that it wasn't to our benefit, it was just damned irregular." Noyce remarked, "He had no authorisation and ran a cowboy operation all on his own with no supervision or support from Starfleet."

"Not entirely true and you know it, Edward." Nechayev accused.

"All right, I'll concede that point but it was still minimal supervision. That and he allowed the Kelvans to jettison this 'ultramatter' out of the galaxy. This could have been the greatest scientific discovery of our time."

"Both the Sciences Division of Starfleet and the Daystrom Institute are looking at Lisea Danan's research notes very carefully." Nechayev countered, "Besides, would you like to try and stop the Kelvans from doing anything they want?"

"I'd give it a shot." Noyce admitted, "They're as unpredictable as the Borg and as much of a menace."

"No one's denying that. We have to proceed very cautiously with our relations with the Kelvans, especially now that they're willing to talk with us."

"According to Macen."

"Why does he disturb you?"

"Why do you defend him?"

"Because Brin Macen is among the finest officers I've ever known." Nechayev laced her fingers on the desk before her, "But let's switch to a lighter topic. Where's your protégé?"

Noyce laughed, "You mean you don't know? The dreaded Ice Queen of Starfleet Intelligence doesn't know where one of our own is?"

Nechayev smiled at the jest, "I don't run the Tal Shiar."

Noyce shrugged, "Robert's hard to keep track of these days. Between chairing seminars on diplomatic strategies for starship captains and overseeing the construction of the new Intrepid, he's very busy."

"Don't you envy him?" Nechayev asked wistfully, "Despite being a flag officer, he gets to retain control over a starship in order to fulfil his role as Starfleet's diplomatic trouble shooter."

"I've never looked back with regret over my advancement in rank and the sacrifices made for it." Noyce admitted, "But the idea seems romantic enough."

Nechayev shook her head, "I'll never understand you Security types."

"Look in the mirror, your understanding will become lucidity itself." Noyce smiled.

Nechayev smiled in return, "Can I offer you something to drink?"

"Coffee," Noyce replied, his smile widening, "black, no sugar."

"Since you're here, I have a few matters we should discuss, if you have the time." Nechayev said as she retrieved the coffee from the replicator and handed to Noyce. She ordered a cup of sweet tea for herself.

"I can make the time." Noyce replied.

It took the Solstice thirty-seven hours to reach the Gorias system. It was almost exactly halfway to Risa. There, the Ambassador-class USS Broadsword rendezvoused with the scoutship. Macen was surprised to learn that a visitor wished to beam aboard.

When Amanda Drake materialised on the transporter pad, he was even more surprised.

"It's not often we see you out in the woods." Macen remarked as Drake stepped off the pad.

"I needed to come aboard." Drake replied, "Our entire communications array may be compromised, perhaps even the starship that brought me here." Drake warned.

"Isn't that a tad paranoid even for you?" Macen asked.

"We'll discuss it in your briefing room." Drake said, barely mollified.

"Right." Macen replied, "Follow me."

Dracas stepped out from behind the transporter's controls and followed them out. Drake still looked tense enough to jump up and cling to the ceiling but she wasn't objecting to Dracas' presence. Noting this, Macen asked her a question while pressing the lift's call button.

"Would you mind of I brought my entire crew in on this? It would spare me having to repeat what you and I discussed."

"That's a good idea. What I have to say pertains to all of you." Drake nodded.

The lift arrived and Macen tapped the comm badge on his belt as the doors slid apart, "Attention all hands, report immediately to the briefing room. Macen out." The lift carried them up two levels and opened to the bridge.

Grace was locking down her board and T'Kir was securing the computer system when Macen, Drake, and Dracas arrived. Daggit was putting Tactical on computer control, with orders to fire upon any unallied traffic. Macen led Drake to the briefing room access at the rear of the bridge and followed her in.

The briefing room had been built to accommodate the six officers out of the twenty-two man complement of a Blackbird-class scoutship. Drake sat down at Macen's accustomed seat at the head of the table. The viewer was behind her and the controls to the room's viewer and table mounted displays were before her.

"Oh, goody!" T'Kir said gleefully as Macen sat beside her, "Now we can play footsies."

Drake ignored the comment and busied herself with loading the data from two isolinear rods into the computer's mainframe. While she was so engaged, Radil and Kort arrived. Drake finished her ministrations and took a moment to observe the crew.

There were Macen and T'Kir, both bore psychological traumas so deep that Macen had been declared unfit for duty and T'Kir had been institutionalised. Both were so vital to the team that these conditions were largely ignored, just as their time with the Maquis was overlooked.

On the other side of the table sat Rab Daggit and Hal Dracas. Daggit was a former super-soldier and decorated Starfleet commando. His participation, and that of his fellow augmented soldiers, in the Dominion War had been the price of Angosia's admission into the Federation. Dracas was an Ardannian Troglyte and technically a former member of the team. His engineering genius allowed him to work in Starfleet's ultra top secret SPYards.

Seated opposite of Drake was Radil Jenrya. The Bajoran had been a Resistance terrorist, a mercenary, and a covert ops soldier. Now she worked for Macen with a loyalty that she hadn't felt since her days fighting the Cardassians. Standing behind Radil was Kort, the team's Klingon doctor. His skills were superb but his bedside manner was so gruff as to guarantee that a patient was truly ailing before seeking his services.

Standing beside Kort was Hannah Grace. Actually a Kelvan born to the descendent of Rojan, Kalinda and the other Kelvan scouts that ascertained that their species could survive in this galaxy by assuming human form. Grace had been sent to join Starfleet by her parents in order to ascertain what Starfleet's reaction to Kelvan refugees would be. Grace had first been recruited by Section 31 and then by the SID. She'd forsaken her loyalties to S31 in order to stay with Macen's group. Later she'd made the same choice about her people in order to remain with the team.

Then there was Drake herself. She'd been specifically recruited to command this team, the first SID investigative team. They'd thrilled her, caused her screaming fits in the night, buoyed her spirits and had never failed in their duty, even if they'd found rather creative ways of fulfilling that duty. Now she was here to warn them of what might prove to be the greatest peril she'd ever sent them into.

"Now that you're all here," Drake began, "it's time to brief you on matters that are too sensitive to transmit via subspace."

Seeing she had their undivided attention, she called up the first image on the viewer, "This is Pytor Boromov. This is the man that we suspect Aric Tulley has gone to ground with. Boromov is a human who owns a rather large portion of Risa. His resort sits on an island the size of Greenland. Only half of the island is developed, half of that is a massive shuttleport. We suspect the resort is a front. Boromov is suspected of ties with dissident and terrorist groups across the quadrant. He's suspected of supplying weapons to these groups."

Drake swallowed and then swept the room with her iron gaze, "I say we suspect Boromov of these crimes because he has never been caught in any crime. The few times Starfleet Security raided his properties, they were stripped down and freshly cleaned. Last year, an SID team was dispatched to Risa to investigate Boromov. They've never been heard from since. A second team was dispatched but they found no trace of the first team or any incriminating evidence linking Boromov to the disappearances."

Silence permeated the room as Drake concluded, "This indicates that there is a leak in either Starfleet Command or in our subspace communications relays. You're going to have to go in under a blanket of communications silence. If you're captured, there's no guarantee that you will ever be rescued. Can you live with that?"

Immediately there was a cascade of nodding heads throughout the room. Drake's throat tightened at the scene, "Any questions?"

"What are the odds that this is a S31 operation?" Grace asked.

"You should know better than anyone Hannah," Macen replied, "S31 views itself as the defenders of the Federation. They're the 'thin black line' that keeps back the wolves. It's almost inconceivable that they would actively support arming terrorists."

"Remember," Drake pointed out, "the first mission most of you had together was one of finding a secret prison holding Federation dissidents. We've always suspected S31 of constructing and maintaining that facility."

"I can confirm that it was. Hannah D'arte was the primary saboteur on that mission. I was the secondary." Grace admitted.

"Yet you didn't carry out your duty." Drake observed.

Grace shrugged, "It didn't feel right."

"And that's what kept you off a penal colony." Drake remarked. Grace blushed.

"Are their any more questions?"

"What does Boromov have in the way of security?" Daggit asked.

"A private army plus the latest in computerised defences." Drake grimly answered.

Silence loomed until Macen spoke, "All right people, now we have a glimpse of the opposition. We'll make our plans accordingly."

This was met with a chorus of agreement, and Macen halted it with a hand, "Dismissed."

Everyone but Drake, Macen and T'Kir filtered out of the room. Drake cast a baleful eye at Macen.

"Brin, I'm sorry to have dumped this mission on you but you and your team have the best chance of stopping Boromov. He'll have a hard time proving you're Starfleet. That'll give you an advantage."

"I'll take anything I can get." Macen smiled thinly.

"We've got him." T'Kir waved her hand dismissively, "We've taken on the Orion Syndicate and the Omicrons. This frinxing idiot won't stand a chance."

Macen reached out and squeezed T'Kir's hand. It was such a simple act of tenderness. Drake realised that her universe would be a colder place without these people in it. She vowed that if something happened to this team, her team, that she would burn down Boromov herself.

 

Chapter 3

Aric Tulley entered the private office of Pytor Boromov and then stood with his hands behind his back. It took Boromov several more minutes to cease working at his desktop computer and to acknowledge Tulley's presence.

"Aric, sooo good to see you."

Tulley's teeth gnashed at Boromov's affected pleasantry. He decided it was a good thing that the resort owner's guards had disarmed him or he might try to shoot the bastard. Tulley had travelled for three days and the last thing he needed to hear right now was this pompous ass' preening. It wouldn't have been half as bad if it was genuine but it was all an act.

Boromov was among the galaxy's most calculating and cold-blooded individuals. He armed half the quadrant's dissident groups and the Federation labelled half of those as terrorists. Of course, the mighty Federation didn't advertise the fact that half of its "protectorates" had armed groups actively opposing UFP membership. It also ignored the fact that selected border regions had terrorist cells striking out to halt the Federation's encroachment on their borders.

Boromov supplied them all. His stated goal was to reshape the Federation. Boromov envisioned a more insular Federation that enlarged its boundaries slowly rather than with the inexorable drive that fuelled its seemingly ceaseless expansion. Boromov simply felt the Federation was growing too fast to adequately protect its Member worlds. He thought that by throwing endless hazards in its way, the Federation Council would turn towards the path of security rather than expansion.

Tulley had known of Boromov's ideological baggage when he'd accepted help from him. Then the Omicrons had come and made a better offer. When their support dried up, Tulley returned hat in hand to Boromov. Boromov had been understanding about the situation. The Omicron had persuaded half of his clients to sign with them. He was ready to pick up where the Omicron had left off.

"Thanks for the refuge, Pytor." Tulley said with genuine sentiment.

"Nonsense. You're my guest." Boromov waved his hand, "Everyone needs to take some time off and rethink strategic planning."

"Pytor, the Maquis rebirth has been crushed." Tulley grew angry, "And all because of Brin Macen and Outbound Ventures, Inc."

"But I know of this man." Boromov said, "My security director is in awe of him. He has a reputation for success that is second to none. Outbound Ventures' other captains are almost as legendary. These people defy death on a daily basis. It is said that Starfleet is among their clientele."

"The Cardassian Union certainly is." Tulley spat, "Macen fought beside me against the Cardassians in the first Maquis rebellion yet he sided with the spoonheads against me in the second."

"Your former captain chose Starfleet over the rebellion as well yet you find no fault with her." Boromov observed.

"You leave Ro Laren out of this!" Tulley shouted.

"Ah, still in love with the Bajoran maiden. Tell me, does she know?" Boromov asked with intrigue.

"No," Tulley grated, angered at having his long kept secret guessed at, "and she's not going to."

Boromov held his hands up in surrender, "Far be it from me to reveal your pining. From what I've heard of the lady, she's liable to shoot me for being the messenger of such unexpected news."

"What are you trying to say?" Tulley demanded through clenched teeth.

"Aric, the entire Federation is looking for you. I had to expend a great deal of influence in order to keep your arrival quiet." Boromov explained, "If I were to show up at a Federation Starbase and announce admissions of unrequited love from a notorious terrorist to a Starfleet officer, don't you think I'd at least be detained?"

Tulley relented, "I suppose so."

"You suppose right, comrade." Boromov clapped him on the back, "You and your people will enjoy my hospitality. You can't utilise the resort of course, but I will fix you up with entertainment."

"Thank you."

"Now, my people will escort you back to the landing field on the other side of the island." Boromov had storehouses and landing strips hidden away throughout the island, "Do you have your anti-sensor nets set up?"

"The entire installation is blanketed." Tulley assured him, "It'll take a visual identification to confirm our presence."

"That's unlikely." Boromov satisfied himself, "Tourists stick with the southern, equatorial section of the island and coastline. 'Do not trespass' signs are posted everywhere, including the offshore buoys."

"Good." Tulley said grimly, "I'd hate to have to kill a tourist."

"I'd hate to see that happen." Boromov said, "I'll instruct my men to double the shore and maritime patrols."

"You might want to begin aerial surveillance as well."

"Of course." Boromov conceded, "Now, if my men can escort you back to your people, I can start making arrangements. Those arrangements would include rejuvenating your movement with arms and personnel."

"I'd like to see you pull that off." Tulley remarked sarcastically.

"Tut tut." Boromov waved a finger, "No one will follow a disillusioned leader."

"I'll work on my attitude." Tulley replied gruffly, his attitude still one of disbelief.

"Mark my words, my friend, your movement will be reborn from its present ashes." Boromov promised.

"Yeah, right." Tulley retorted and left the office, surrounded by two guards that seemed to materialise from nowhere.

Admiral Johnson strode through the Intrepid's docking hatch via the umbilical connecting her to the spacedock's support systems. "Yard dog" engineers were completing her construction while being supervised by Johnson's flag staff. They had already modified the ship's systems with several personal touches. Once aboard, he tapped his issue comm badge. It didn't respond with the usual chirp.

Johnson cast a questioning eye towards the closest engineer. The engineer wore a bemused smile.

"The comm array is down, Admiral" she explained, "All you have is the badge's inherent range, which isn't much."

"Then how are you communicating?" Johnson enquired.

"With these." the engineer removed a small rectangular device from underneath her uniform jacket and flipped it open, "Johnson to Commander Striker."

"Striker here, Ensign, how can I help you?"

"Admiral Johnson has just arrived, sir."

"Tell the Commander that I want to brief all the present senior staff." Johnson instructed.

"Did you overhear that, Commander?"

"Loud and clear." Striker chuckled, "Admiral, I'll assemble the staff in the flag briefing room."

"I'll see you there." Johnson replied.

The female Johnson closed her communicator and faced the Admiral, "Do you need a guide?"

"No need Ensign, I've been boarding her since her keel was laid." Johnson paused, "Johnson's a good name."

The engineer beamed, "Carried by the best, sir."

"Do you have a first name?"

"Emily, sir." she blushed.

"Mine's Robert." Johnson stroked his beard, "Are you a yard dog or ship's crew, Emily?"

"I'm crew, sir." Emily revealed, "I've been with the crew since before the last Intrepid died."

Seeing as how the Intrepid's systems had been invaded by an alien energy being, "died" was an apropos description of her end. That death haunted Johnson. If he'd been able to reach a rational arrangement with the being, it and the ship wouldn't have had to die.

"Carry on, Emily." Johnson ordered, "I'll be watching you."

Emily gulped, not sure if Johnson's watchful eye was a good thing or a bad one. Johnson continued down the corridor, turned left and continued onward until he reached a turbolift. He stepped into the turbolift and requested deck three. When the doors opened he exited and proceeded directly to the briefing room.

The senior staff waited inside. Commander Jonathan Striker, the Executive Officer, sat next to the head of the table. Commander Robert Caplan, the Chief Engineer, sat at the end of the table. Commander Andreja Sikorsky, the Chief Medical Officer, sat beside Striker. Lt. Commander Ian Delaney, the Tactical and Chief Security Officer, sat across from Sikorsky.

"I have disturbing news people." Johnson began as he took his seat at the head of the table, "There is a situation which I believe one of us may be able to assist in."

Seeing expectant stares in reply, Johnson outlined the least classified portions of the SID's investigation into the whereabouts of Aric Tulley and his cohorts. He neglected to mention Drake's suspicions regarding Pytor Boromov's role in the affair nor The SID's previous investigation into Boromov. These facts were classified at the highest level. However, Macen's investigation into Tulley was only classified as a Level 5 security clearance. All of Johnson's people were cleared at that level.

"So which department is handling this investigation?" Striker asked.

"The Special Investigations Division." Johnson answered.

The SID was Starfleet's open secret. Few civilians knew of it but it had gained quite a reputation amongst Starfleet personnel. Delaney asked the next most obvious question.

"Who's heading the investigation?"

"One Commander Brin Macen."

Delaney whistled, "Macen is a legend in the intelligence field. I thought he retired into the active reserves though."

"His commission was reactivated, as was those of his entire crew." Johnson explained, "They still act the part of privateers as part of their cover but they're really Starfleet."

"I wonder why someone hasn't thought of this ploy before?" Delaney asked.

"Previously it was a matter of honour that Starfleet kept all of their operations above board." Johnson replied, "Ever since the Dominion War though, tactics have changed somewhat."

"Wasn't Macen a member of the Maquis?" Sikorsky asked.

"For a number of years." Johnson revealed.

"Didn't he serve on the front lines for the extent of the Border Wars?" Delaney enquired.

"Again, correct." Johnson nodded.

"I heard he was court-martialled and busted in rank." Striker said.

"All of you have made accurate assessments."

"How does a man like this still wear the uniform?" Sikorsky demanded, "His negatives seem to outweigh his positives."

Johnson's eyes twinkled with amusement, "He continues to serve because he's an idealist. An idealist that pulls off miracles on a regular basis."

"And loses a lot of hardware in the process." Caplan observed.

"That's classified Commander, so I won't ask where you heard it from." Johnson's tone turned a little more rigid.

"All of this seems moot." Striker observed, "We're in no shape to support Macen's mission, no matter what we think of his credentials."

"Not all of us." Johnson's twinkle returned, "But one of us can. Ian, I have a mission for you."

"Me?" Delaney blinked in surprise, "I'll do whatever I'm ordered to, Admiral, but honestly what can I do that the SID team isn't already?"

"I want you to go on vacation on Risa. Stay at the Royale resort." Johnson ordered, "Do what you can to quietly support Macen's search for Tulley. If they run into trouble, alert Starfleet as fast as you can?"

"Is this one on the books, Admiral?" Delaney asked.

"This is as black as the void, Ian, so be careful." Johnson replied.

Delaney just grinned.

"Traffic Control, this is the NDR 745117 SS Solstice." Grace spoke into the comm pickup on her board, "We are requesting permission to land at the Royale resort."

"Your approach is cleared, Solstice." The Traffic controller replied, "We shall upload your glide path to you and transfer you to the Royale's local controller for verification of landing permits. Have a nice stay!"

"Thank you Control." Grace replied and then waited for the next set of instructions.

"Be advised, Solstice, this is local control for Royal Island. We have confirmation of your landing permit and your reservations. Customs and Security officials will be awaiting you on the pad." the controller relayed, "Welcome to Risa!"

"Thank you and have a nice day." Grace responded.

"Already done." Control said and signed off.

"Too bad we're on a mission." Grace sighed, "Here I am, not yet thirty and I've never been to Risa before."

"So young and so lovely, yet without a man in her life." T'Kir quipped.

Grace shot her best friend an annoyed glare.

"Trust me Hannah, if it can happen t'me, it can happen for anyone." T'Kir assured her.

Grace bobbed her head side to side and wore a pensive expression, "I suppose you're right."

"Hey!" T'Kir protested, "You're not supposed to agree!"

Grace stuck her tongue out at T'Kir. The Vulcan returned the compliment. Macen shook his head.

"Ladies, can we land sometime today?"

"Bossy." Grace remarked.

"Nag." T'Kir shot back and then winked.

Macen grinned. He honestly enjoyed his wife's irreverent sense of humour. It was probably because it reminded him of his own.

Macen, like T'Kir, had learned not to take protocol too seriously during his time with the Maquis. Macen had spent a decade on the border with Cardassia and had worked closely with the Federation colonists living there. His sympathies naturally ran towards those colonists living within the Demilitarised Zone between Cardassian and Federation space. When Starfleet Intelligence assigned him to infiltrate Ro Laren's Maquis cell on Ronara Prime, It was a perfect opportunity for him to support both causes he held dear.

As part of his role as a double agent, Macen founded an intelligence gathering unit that was the envy of every other cell. He compiled data for the Maquis and Starfleet. Ro Laren carefully vetted the information going out to Starfleet so that it rarely interfered with a cell's ongoing operations. Given a ship, the Blackbird-class Odyssey, Macen was able to gather information from across the DMZ and its borders.

Ten years on the line during the Border Wars and three more years with the Maquis combined with the residual terror of watching his homeworld get assimilated by the Borg left Macen's psyche scarred. After the Maquis' destruction, Macen returned to Starfleet's regular forces. Nechayev sent Macen off for a psychological evaluation. He was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and declared unfit for duty. With the outbreak of the Dominion War, Macen was once again sent to the front lines of a war.

This time he was attached to a commando unit comprised of augmented Angosians. This is where he met Rab Daggit. Macen was the unit's intelligence officer. He earned their respect by joining them on most of their missions.

After the war, Macen was recruited for a mission that birthed the SID. He recruited T'Kir and Rab Daggit for his investigative team. Daggit had been a harder sell but T'Kir had readily agreed to sign up. Anything was better than being locked up in a psychiatric facility.

Born and raised on a Vulcan colony in what became the DMZ, the world was populated by emotional expressionist Vulcan dissidents and Romulan defectors. While she was away at school, the Cardassians butchered her family and everyone she knew. Returning to the scene of the slaughter, her mind became unhinged by sorrow and the thirst for revenge. She offered her skills as a cybernetics specialist to the Maquis and found a home with the Ronaran cell.

Unbeknownst to the Maquis, T'Kir's grief and rage unlocked her ultimate telepathic potential. She was able to monitor the thoughts of everyone within an entire sector. The constant bombardment of unwanted thoughts further destabilised her and she went insane.

It was during this time that she was assigned to Macen's intelligence unit. In Macen she found a refuge. She couldn't read his thoughts and he became the anchor that loosely tied her to what she called "reality". Eventually that cord snapped as well and Macen had to commit her to the Andes Psychiatric Institute. This was the same facility that he broke her out of in order to recruit her.

Reunited, T'Kir was proscribed an ancient Vulcan remedy that curbed her telepathy down to controllable levels. Macen and T'Kir soon admitted the latent attraction that had existed between them for some time to each other and themselves. They were lovers for six years before marrying. Since that time, they had helped balance out each other's psychoses. Some found it an unholy union but its twisted nature worked to their advantage.

"Take us in Hannah." Macen ordered and Grace went to work. Atmospheric manoeuvres were tricky for the Solstice. Her hull wasn't designed for such actions. Her ability to operate within an atmosphere resulted from some engineering miracles provided by the SPYards.

The hull began to glow red from the heat of re-entry. An unpowered re-entry would result in the ship burning up. He hull had been reinforced to combat this tendency. A corona of flame enveloped the ship yet she sailed on. Plunging deeper into the atmosphere, Grace trimmed out her descent and slowed the ship down. Having already traversed Risa three times, it was time to level out and seek Royal Island.

Following the coordinates laid into her board as designated by the positioning satellites, Grace quickly found the island and began a landing approach, "Local Traffic this is Solstice requesting a glide path to the designated landing pad."

"Roger Solstice, prepare to receive updated clearances. Be advised though, we have no control over our guests and one of them may cross your path."

"Will you grant permission to open fire?" Grace joked.

The joke was lost on the controller, "You may not! Any act of violence will be dealt with by the resident Starfleet detachment."

"I was kidding but we've been duly warned. Thank you." came Grace's strained reply.

"Easy Hannah." Macen urged, "They're not used to dealing with an armed privateer. Who knows what nasty, vicious rumours they've heard about us."

"Then why let us land?" Grace asked in bewilderment.

"Because we're not known fugitives and it's the basic Risan mentality in play."

"What's that?" Grace enquired.

"Everybody needs a vacation." Macen said with a smile.

"I take it you've been here before?"

"Yup. It was memorable." Macen's smile turned into a lopsided grin.

Grace glanced over at T'Kir, "What happened?"

T'Kir shrugged, "All he'll say is 'what happens on Risa stays on Risa'."

"I'll bet it involves sex." Grace opined.

"Me too." T'Kir agreed, "All I can say is good for him."

"You're too understanding."

"He was around for a long time before he met me." T'Kir smiled, "And I was around before I met him."

"And after you met him." Grace reminded her.

"The curse of a long life, Hannah." T'Kir laughed, "It broadens your options. I for one never thought I'd be married this young."

Grace made final preparations for landing, "You're over seventy years old."

"Which is still young for a Vulcan." T'Kir pointed out, "I've got another two hundred or so years left."

"What about the Captain?"

"Well, the longevity drug he took a long time ago wore off so he's looking at another three hundred years or so instead of another eight hundred."

"That's crazy." Grace shook her head.

"I know this might seem rude," Macen interjected, "but can you stop talking about me and simply land the ship?"

T'Kir blew him a raspberry and Grace coloured. She initiated the final thruster sequence, deployed the landing gear and lowered the ship to the ground. There was a gentle bounce as the ship settled on her "legs".

"Radil, stand by at the main hatch." Macen said into the intercom.

"You've got it." Radil replied.

"All right people," Macen stood, "all ashore that's going ashore."

The crew gathered at the main hatch. Macen stopped them.

"Okay, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that we're going to have to look like we're vacationing so that means we have to have some fun while we're here." Macen informed his gathered subordinates, "The bad news is that Kort and Hal are staying aboard. Sorry Kort, sorry Chief."

"May I ask why?" Kort wondered.

"Klingons don't come to Risa. Ever." Macen answered, "You're presence would draw undue attention. I also want you aboard so we can transport back here in case of a medical emergency."

Macen turned to Dracas, "That explains your presence. I need the transporter manned and ready at a moment's notice. If we have to move, we're going to move quickly."

"It's okay." Dracas said, "I've had my share of fun on Risa. I'm in a happy relationship now, I don't need to wander about."

"I'm glad you feel that way about Kiv." Macen squeezed Dracas' shoulder, "I've had some doubts about him but I'm pleased to hear you're happy."

"All right Jenrya, pop the hatch." Macen instructed.

"Sir?" Dracas spoke up, "Are you really going armed?"

"Yes, I am." Macen replied.

"The Risians won't like that." Dracas warned.

"I really don't care." Macen said forcefully, "We're going into a danger zone. I'm not going to let my people go in unarmed."

"Yes sir!" Dracas snapped off and Macen grinned. Macen proceeded to the head of the gathering line and stepped out into the Risan afternoon.

 

Chapter Four

At the bottom of the gangplank, two Customs officials and an Island Security officer met Macen. Before Macen's feet touched the planet's "soil", the two officials were objecting to Macen's sidearm. The Security officer discreetly spoke into a wrist communicator presumably to summon reinforcements. Macen raised his hands to shoulder height and began trying to reason with the gentlebeings.

"I'm within my rights to carry this sidearm as are the members of my crew." Macen said reasonably, "You can check our security clearances as issued by Federation Security's Privateer Licensing Commission. I think you'll find we rate a Level 9 clearance. The rights and privileges of such a clearance include the ability to arm oneself in any location within the Federation."

The Island Security back-up arrived in force. Macen counted twenty of them, all with weapons drawn. The original Security officer spoke.

"It may be as you say but we must insist that you surrender your weapons until we can confirm your clearance level."

Macen pulled out his phaser and handed it to her, "Be careful with that. I expect it back as is."

T'Kir stepped of the gangplank behind Macen and likewise surrendered her phaser. She rolled her eyes at Macen's insistence of preferential treatment for his gun. He'd even given it a name. It was named after Ro Laren. As Macen put it neither Laren had ever failed him and he meant to keep it that way.

T'Kir laughed about it. She considered it another one of his eccentricities. Dating then marrying her could be counted as another. She'd once, in the throes of madness, tried to kill him. Most people wouldn't have been able to overlook that fact.

Macen's crew was a motley bunch. Macen wore a grey tee shirt with black cargo pants and black combat boots. Atop this he wore his holster/utility belt. T'Kir wore her usual leather longcoat and leather pants with black mid calf combat boots. Today she wore a black tank top. Her holster was designed for her left hand.

Daggit wore a black tee with grey and black camouflage pants and combat boots. He wore a double shoulder holster and a double tactical holster on his hip. The gun slot on the right accommodated a pump action grenade launcher. The one on his left fit another phaser pistol. The pouches of Daggit's utility belt were filled with grenades and powerpacks. He also wore a Bowie knife strapped to his left boot.

Radil wore a double tactical rig, having foregone her portable phaser cannon. She wore a short sleeve earth tone scoop necked blouse with a light weave sweater vest. She wore dark brown pants and ankle boots.

Grace wore a white tank top and khaki cargo shorts. Her holster rode high on her hip rather than the mid thigh variant the others wore. She wore khaki canvas shoes and white ankle socks. Grace literally topped off her outfit with a wide brimmed sun hat.

The officer receiving Daggit's weapons couldn't help but stare at the Angosian's bulging musculature. Radil's officer also stared at her athletic physique. Grace's officer flirted with her. Grace politely declined her advances and joined the rest of her comrades.

"Very well." The lead officer said, "If you'll follow me to our offices, we can clear this matter up."

Macen nodded his assent and the crew was escorted to the security office over to the side of the Resort. The Resort was a multilevel, terraced structure with balconies overlooking either the surrounding coastline or the tropical forest behind the hotel. The coastline ran northwest to southeast. The jungle line ran north to south.

The security office sat at the southeastern tip of the Resort complex. It was on the ground floor and directly accessed the hotel as well as the grounds. Upon entering, Macen was surprised to see two Starfleet Security officers sitting in the office. Both officers were armed and eying the SID team suspiciously. Macen had known that there would be a Starfleet presence on the island. He just hadn't expected it to be in bed with Boromov's forces.

"Harkins," the female Island Security officer said to the standing Starfleet lieutenant, "we need to run a background and security level check on our guests here."

Harkins rose. In stature he was nearly as imposing as Daggit. Daggit was as tall as Tom Riker and towered over most humanoids. Harkins went down the line of SID "guests".

He faltered when he met Radil's eyes. He stopped and swallowed hard when he met Daggit's level gaze. T'Kir unsettled him as well with her manic gleam. Macen was the final straw with his all too knowing eyes.

"Why bother with the check, Suze?" Harkins asked the lead Island officer, "Let's just lock `em up right now."

Susan Haywright shook her head, "They're guests of the hotel. They're free to use its facilities. What they aren't free to do yet is carry weapons on Resort grounds. So if you'd run your checks and settle the issue, we'd all appreciate it."

The checks required retinal and biosignature scans with which the team was happy to comply with. It took a few moments for Starfleet's computers to receive the requested "sanitized" files. Those files showed that the Outbound Ventures crew had left Starfleet service nearly four years ago and was now a fully licensed, independent privateer firm with a Level 9 clearance. Level 9 clearances granted them the right to bear arms wherever they went within Federation borders as well as the full cooperation of available Starfleet personnel.

"It appears we owe you an apology." Haywright conceded and motioned for her people to return the confiscated weaponry, "She herself returned the two phaser pistols she had to Macen and T'Kir.

Macen looked for the notch he'd placed in Laren's pistol grip when T'Kir tapped him on the shoulder. She traded him pistols and he looked contented as he placed the phaser in its holster. T'Kir snickered as she did the same. Haywright had to ask what had just transpired.

"That's his personal gun." T'Kir replied, "He's spent hours sighting it in."

Haywright nodded, "I've done the same." She patted a Starfleet surplus phaser dating back to the turn of the century hanging on her belt.

Macen telepathically broadcast to his wife, See, I'm not the only one.

She hasn't given the damn thing a name. T'Kir thought back.

Scan her and see if she hasn't. Macen urged.

T'Kir refocused her energies and then shook her head, She has named the frinxing thing! "Crichton" of all things.

It's a common enough trait to try and personalize belongings. Macen though and then said, "Even cultures back home did it. I remember the Erassians. They named every personal possession they owned. Right down to..."

"Spare me the lecture, Professor." T'Kir held up a hand, "You've proven your point, just leave it at that."

Haywright was confused since she'd literally stepped into the end of the conversation. While only being a low level empath, not a full-blown telepath like his wife, Macen could feel her carefully disguised confusion and her resolve to solve the mystery of what she'd just transpired.

We've tipped our hand too soon. Macen berated himself.

Now that everyone was rearmed, Haywright pointed out to the hotel, "Feel free to check in."

"Thank you." Macen replied graciously and exited the office through the hotel entrance.

As the team left, Haywright commed her boss, "Mr. Boromov, we've guests you should be made aware of."

"Do we really?" Boromov laced his fingers in front of him, "Please continue, Chief."

Boromov closed the connection with his Security Chief and leaned back in his chair. He'd heard Brin Macen's name mentioned twice in one day now and felt it was no coincidence. He called up the background information on Macen's company and crew. Outbound Ventures, Inc. had been founded six years ago, shortly after Macen's court-martial and dismissal from Starfleet's active forces.

Starfleet became the firm's primary contractor and OVI swiftly built up a reputation as a solid performer that achieved results. Three years ago, when Starfleet Intelligence banned the use of privateers, Macen recruited several of his displaced fellow captains and crews and brought them in under the OVI banner. The company relied upon civilian contracts and its reputation flourished. Even in apparent failure, such as the loss of the George Kelly, the OVI forces managed to stave off the attacking pirates and protect the convoy they'd been hired to escort.

The ships were constantly busy, all except the Nova-class NDR 745198 SS Obsidian, it like the apparent Solstice, were Macen's personal vessels. Boromov could see the wisdom is maintaining two commands. One would be for overt missions while the other handled the covert tasks. No one would suspect an aged Blackbird-class scoutship of being the vessel of a secret agent.

Carefully reading the files, especially Macen's personnel jacket, it was easy to deduce that Macen still worked for Starfleet. He might no longer be a serving officer but he was Starfleet all the same. The Captain and crew of the Obsidian were under exclusive contract with an unnamed employer. That unnamed employer had to be Starfleet.

All of Boromov's deductions still left him wondering the same old question, Are they after me and my operation? The obvious answer was that Macen was finishing his job for the Cardassians to bring Tulley in. While it was tempting to simply allow the good Captain to find Tulley, Boromov had extended his hand to Tulley and offered him protection while he resided on this island.

"Damn it all." Boromov said as he typed in the special cipher key into his comm system and placed an offworld subspace call. Soon afterwards, Boromov was enlightened regarding several recent key events. His next call was to the Office of the UFP President.

After waiting for nearly an hour, Boromov's face appeared on Nevil's screen. Nevil smiled warmly and greeted Boromov, "Pytor, what a surprise."

"Spare me the crap, Sarah." Boromov snapped, "You sicked an SID team on me and I want to know why."

Nevil sighed, "Pytor, you've always known our methods vastly differ but we want essentially the same thing, a vastly reshaped Federation where the balance of power is equitably distributed."

"Which is why I can't fathom why you've unleashed the dogs on my doorstep." Boromov complained.

"I suppose you've obtained this information through our 'special friends'." Boromov nodded and Nevil continued, "Then they should have told you that I requested the SID to investigate the whereabouts of Aric Tulley and his people. You aren't mentioned in the orders."

"But I'm implicated by Tulley's presence." Boromov protested.

"Not if he's not there." Nevil suggested, "Quickly find him a safe harbour and unload the man to the next stop."

"You're right of course." Boromov consented, "Of course, I could always deal with them the way I disposed of the last SID team that came knocking."

"Starfleet Intelligence is already suspicious of you, Pytor." Nevil warned, "You 'disappear' any more of their agents and they won't bother with the legal niceties of a search warrant. Nechayev will burn your tropical paradise to the ground looking for her people."

"Then we'll just have to make it look like outsiders did it." Boromov wore a vicious smile.

"Pytor, no! I forbid it. No more bloodshed!" Nevil commanded.

"Alas, fair Sarah, I have no choice." Boromov terminated the transmission before Nevil could object. She sat and stewed in her own simmering anger before summoning Zitter.

"Hans, come to my office. We have a situation."

The SID team checked into the Resort hotel and then went to collect their luggage. They chartered a tram to take them out to the landing field. There, the Solstice dwarfed the various shuttles and runabouts littering the field. The gangplank lowered and the hatch opened with T'Kir combing the computer and relaying the security code. The computer automatically switched to a new code upon usage.

The crew gathered their belongings and returned to the hatch. Radil and Kort took a moment to indulge in a fiery embrace. Kort stayed out of sight as the team exited the ship and closed the hatch behind them. The gangplank was withdrawn as well.

Kort wandered the corridors until he came to Deck 3 and entered the transporter room. There Dracas had set up a chaise lounge and was reading a book.

"Where did you get this...chair?" Kort wondered.

"Replicated it." Dracas answered, "Want one?"

"Of course..." Kort began to decline the offer and then reconsidered it, "I think I shall."

"It's programmed into the industrial replicator." Dracas said, "I've hooked up an auxiliary drinks replicator in here. Grab a padd, choose a book, and relax."

"I think I shall." Kort declared and tromped off towards the industrial replicator.

Dracas shook his head, "He's coming around. Slowly but surely and that's a fact." Dracas took another sip of his Argentan Starshine and scrolled further down the text of the spy novel he was reading.

"Heh." he scoffed, "If they only knew the truth. Now that would make a good book."

The tram dropped the team off at the entrance leading to their rooms. Macen and company weren't drawing any attention thanks to their weaponry. Armed security guards flitted about throughout the grounds. Other than the lack of Resort personnel uniforms, the team fit right in.

Macen and T'Kir entered their rooms and took a look around. The parlour emptied into a sitting room. This room possessed a small office area complete with a computer terminal. Two large sectional couches surrounded a central coffee table. The rooms were joined to a full service food replicator accessorised with a bistro set.

The opposing doorway led to the bedroom. A palatial, canopied bed awaited them. The balcony was accessed though this room. It had a coastal view. It also had patio furniture and a drinks replicator.

T'Kir dropped her bag and flopped onto the bed. She drew her knees up underneath her and began bouncing on the bed. She had an inviting smile when she next spoke.

"It's quiet and springy. We could get into all sorts of compromising positions."

Macen grinned, "Maybe later. Right now we need to get set up."

"You're no fun." T'Kir pouted as she got off the bed. She joined Macen in unpacking her bag. Both of them had brought clothes either identical or similar to what they were presently wearing. It was a working holiday and there wouldn't be much time for simple recreation.

Daggit, Radil and Grace all had single rooms, facing the jungle canopy. They were located on the fifth floor in the southeastern corner of the building. The jungle was near enough to see wildlife scaling the trees and nearing the clearings. There were no predators allowed in the Resort's grounds. They were fenced off to the upper two-thirds of the island.

T'Kir put the last pair of pants in the drawer and closed it, "At least there's a Starfleet presence here. We can get some back-up if we need it."

"Be serious." Macen retorted, "These 'officers' are in bed with the local security forces. They either know all about Boromov's operations or they look the other way."

"Bummer." T'Kir replied, "There goes my vacation."

"Sorry `bout that." Macen said consolingly, "We'll still have the opportunity to check out most of the resort's amenities."

"You say that now but in the end you'll say 'the hell with it, let's get down to business'." T'Kir pressed the back of her hand to her forehead and wore her martyred look.

"Knock it off." Macen chided her, "Let's check on the others."

"Right behind you, O' Captain my Captain."

The others had settled in as well. Grace was astounded by the size of the rooms.

"There's enough room for a whole quad of cadets, and that's just the bed alone!"

"Shows you these Risians know how to have a good time." T'Kir commented.

Grace blushed while Radil just shook her head and chuckled. Macen and Daggit were discussing exploratory options.

"I think we should split into three groups." Macen was saying, "T'Kir and I will charter a boat and explore the coastline. You and Radil will explore the jungle paths and Hannah...well Hannah will mingle with the crowd on the beach."

"Yay!" Grace cheered, "I knew you were the most wonderful captain in the galaxy!"

"Just remember to actually observe all the clientele and not just the cute ones." Macen instructed.

Grace snapped off a salute, "You've got it. I've got to go change into my swimsuit."

She stood there bouncing on her toes looking like an expectant puppy. Macen relented, "Go. Have fun and don't get killed."

"You betcha!" Grace hollered down the hallway as she ran back to her room.

"Like a Klingon in a weapons depot." Macen murmured ands turned back to Daggit, "Have you any complaints with your assignment?"

"No sir." Daggit replied, "Just wondering if we could get underway?"

"Go, go." Macen shooed them away with his hand. Radil looked back as she and Daggit departed and shrugged. Macen had sensed that she was less enthusiastic about the hike through the resort's jungle property but she was glad to be doing something.

"So," T'Kir said, "should I doff my fabulous outfit and re-attire myself in something skimpy?"

"Sounds perfect for boating." Macen said as he took her hand and led her back to their room.

"Aric, I have a use for some of your men and women." Boromov spoke into the comm viewer's pick up.

"Your lawns need further manicuring?" Tulley sneered.

"No." Boromov forced himself to remain patient and polite, "Your Captain Macen is here and I suspect he's looking for you." Boromov didn't want to mention that he'd already confirmed that titbit because he didn't want to divulge his source for Federation secrets. Those particular allies weren't ones to lightly offend.

"Macen here?" Tulley suddenly wore a hunted look, "We have to eliminate him."

"Plans are in motion." Boromov assured him, "But I need your people for the actual hits. If there are witnesses, I don't want my security people implicated. Your forces, however, can melt into the background. I can protect your men far better than I can my own. I've already sent transportation all you need to do is agree and the plans will be underway."

"It seems I don't have much of a choice." Tulley scowled.

"You have a choice Aric," Boromov said reassuringly, "You can participate in my plans and eliminate Macen or you can flee before he finds you. I can't offer any more than that."

"Then I suppose I accept your offer. My people will be standing by."

"Excellent." Boromov clapped his hands together, "I'll dispatch a team to dispose of the ship."

"I claim the ship as salvage, Pytor." Tulley pronounced, "It'll make a grand flag ship for the new Maquis fleet."

"That's the spirit!" Boromov enthused, "The ship will be delivered to you shortly."

"I'll be expecting it." with that said, Tulley cut the line.

Boromov swirled a decanter of cognac and poured himself a glass. He held the glass up in a salutation.

"To our joint success!"

Tulley motioned for his lieutenant, Deirdre Armstrong to approach. Until recently Deirdre had been his covert operations specialist. With Tom Reynolds' death, she moved up to being Tulley's Executive Officer. Now she was going to get the opportunity to wear her old hat again.

"Deirdre, gather up your men and any able crewmen that might prove useful in a scrap. You've got a mission."

"What is it Aric?"

"We're going to kill a friend, my dear. We're going to kill Brin Macen."

"If he's here won't he suspect something?"

"Boromov is doing his best to keep Macen fat and happy. He shouldn't see us coming."

"How many targets are there?"

"You can bet T'Kir is with him." Tulley replied, "That much is certain. Other than that, we're waiting for word from Boromov when his transports arrive."

"Macen's dangerous and so is that gutter snipe of a Vulcan that's married to him." Deirdre warned, "If this fails, there won't be any stopping him until he finds you."

"I'll take my chances." Tulley wore a thin smile.

Deirdre wasn't as confident.

In the end, the only thing T'Kir doffed was her coat. She wasn't happy about it but she yielded to Macen's prediction of an impending attack while they were out at sea. She wondered what would happen to the ship's crew in such an event. Macen said not to worry, their boss wouldn't eliminate them, or so he hoped

T'Kir's hair blew wild and free in the marine air. One of her tattoos, the Vulcan IDIC, was visible on her upper arm. Her clothing covered the rest. It was always amazing to see strangers' reactions to an inked Vulcan. It was almost as funny as their reactions to witnessing a passionate Vulcan in action.

"They're staring." T'Kir complained to Macen as she surveyed the coastline with field glasses.

"Now you know how Sybok felt wherever he went." Macen replied.

Sybok had been the Vulcan student whose experiments into emotionalism had led to his banishment from Vulcan and inspired the later followers of his teachings to colonise T'Kir's homeworld of Shial. His quest for Sha-ka-ree, or the homeworld of God, had ended his life but his philosophies lived on for another century. Now only T'Kir was left.

"I thought you liked the attention." Macen teased.

"Not when I'm being treated like a freak." T'Kir complained.

"Want me to shoot them?"

T'Kir smiled, "I thought the shooting was supposed to take place later."

"It will." his certainty had finally won her over.

"When?"

"After it gets dark." Macen explained, "I'm afraid we'll only pretend to sleep tonight."

"I know how we could stay awake." she said suggestively.

"The timing could get a mite awkward."

T'Kir's lower lip jutted out, "Why does someone always have to be trying to kill us?"

"Charmed lives, I suppose." Macen shrugged, Seen anything yet?"

The image intensifiers were matted to a tricorder unit. They magnified imagery and gave a detailed scan of the area as well. T'Kir had been sweeping several strips of coastline for an hour now. So far they hadn't spotted anything.

"Wait a minute..." she muttered.

"What is it?" Macen grabbed his own glasses.

See that black zone there?" T'Kir enquired, "That's a null zone. There's something there but it's shielded from sensors. Normal field glasses wouldn't have spotted it but we're using military grade units..."

"And we've spotted what no one wanted found." Macen finished for her.

"Tulley's camp?"

"Or at least his ships." Macen lowered his glasses, "I'm going to tell the captain to put in here for the night."

"Is this where it'll happen?"

Macen grinned, "I think we just guaranteed that."

 

Chapter Five

T'Kir finally got to dress skimpily. When the boat anchored beyond the "No Trespassing" buoy, she changed into a two-piece swimsuit. If the crew had ogled her IDIC emblem, they were practically agog at the Romulan Imperial emblem stretched across her lower back and the Maquis Command symbol on her ankle. She went into the water for a dip while Macen dressed down to join her.

They frolicked in the water together for an hour before returning to the boat. Once aboard, they showered together and then dressed in their normal attire and joined the clipper's captain, cook and two deckhands for dinner. Once that was finished, the couple sat out on the deck and watched the sunset as the stars begin to shine. They were still stargazing when they heard the approaching motorboats.

Daggit and Radil had thoroughly enjoyed their hike. Tensions between the two had eased since Radil had come to terms with Daggit reciprocating her multiple rejections of him. This event had driven her deeper into the arms of Kort, a move for which she was eternally grateful. Daggit on the other hand had begun a romance with the crew's newest chief engineer, the Orion woman Parva.

Parva had lived up to the legends surrounding Orion femininity. Kort was a prime example of Klingon masculinity. The pair traded opinions on interspecies dating. This touched on their mutual observations of Macen and T'Kir's relationship.

This, of course, brought up the simple fact that both Macen and T'Kir were atypical representatives of their particular races. This in turn elicited an honest confession that every member of the crew was atypical compared to their planet's social norms. The exchange was a bonding experience between working partners. Just as Macen and T'Kir commonly teamed up, Daggit and Radil were frequently paired together and this breath of fresh air was healing for both of them.

Suddenly Daggit froze and drew his knife. The affable comrade in arms was gone, replaced by the soldier that Angosia's military scientists had created. His psychological conditioning had activated just as he'd been programmed to do at the sound of a snapping twig. His physical augmentations went into effect as well. Daggit silently crept into the jungle, leaving Radil on the trail.

"Rab?" she asked softly and then shrugged and continued on her way. Her guard was up owing to Daggit's reaction. She knew someone was out there ahead of her. With Daggit as back-up and her own skills to rely upon, she felt confident that she could deal with whatever came her way. When three men stepped out of the jungle branches, she readied herself for battle.

Radil reacted instinctively. She snap drew her two phasers and stunned the closest two assailants. She dove and rolled as the third brought his disruptor rifle to bear. Radil rose to one knee and took aim. She was too late. Her attacker had her dead to rights.

Daggit emerged from the jungle and grabbed the man by the chin and lifted. He thrust his knife into the man's exposed throat. He removed the knife and spun and pulled his phaser out of his leg holster and fired at a woman emerging from the dense undergrowth. She crumpled and went down. Another man appeared and began running down the trail. Daggit shot him in the back.

Radil checked the woman's body for a pulse. Finding none, she frowned and shook her head.

"You could've taken at least one prisoner." Radil chided.

"You already had two. I saw no reason to overburden ourselves." Daggit said dismissively.

"What you've done is create problems with the local authorities." Radil chastised his reaction, "This is just more of that combat conditioning crap."

"Take it or leave it." Daggit replied.

"I just didn't plan on spending my first night on Risa being interrogated by junior Starfleet Security officers." Radil complained.

"If its any consolation, I don't think those particular officers could interrogate a primate." Daggit opined.

"I guess we'll find out." Radil said, "Come on, let's go report this."

Grace was leaving the beach. She stayed through the sunset and had lain on her towel studying the stars. Unbeknownst to her teammates, Grace had an eidetic memory concerning stars and star charts. She could name every visible star and system in the sky. Having cooled off, she packed it in and was returning to the hotel.

The entrance to the hotel was a convergence of three paths. One path had a burned out light source and it was cast in deep shadow. As Grace passed by it, a knife wielding assassin thrust her weapon out and tried to stab Grace in the back.

Grace dropped her towel and whirled to face her assailant. She grabbed the knife hand with both of her hands. Grace inverted the knife hand so that its palm was bent in towards the forearm. Carrying the perpetrators momentum, Grace pulled her forward and spun her arm behind her. With a gasp of pain, the assassin dropped her weapon.

Unexpectedly, the killer threw her right leg out and twisted her body in order to throw Grace over the leg. Her wrist snapped from Grace's destabilised hold. Grace hit the ground and released the other woman's hand. At that moment, Grace recognised her attacker.

"Deirdre!" Grace called out.

Deirdre ran down the pathway into the darkness, clutching her wounded wrist. Grace rose to her feet and brushed off her bruised arse. Other hotel patrons began to appear. One was calling Resort Security.

Grace ignored their inquiries into her well being and picked up Deirdre's knife. It was a Nausicaan blade. The Maquis were well known scavengers but Grace had a hard time picturing them buying arms from Nausicaans. Nausicaan raiders were the bane of the quadrant, almost as reviled as Orion pirates. As Resort Security arrived, Grace girded herself for a long night of questioning.

The first four Maquis boarded the yacht by using the diving ladder hanging off the rear of the boat. Two of the intruders entered the cabin space and began searching for Macen and T'Kir. The other two split up and moved forward, one to port and one to starboard. Macen and T'Kir were lying in wait, leaned up against the forward edge of the main bridge.

The two on the deck had almost reached the couple when they half-turned, revealing themselves. They fired phaser bursts at point blank range. The other two Maquis could suddenly be seen in the main cabin. Macen and T'Kir fired through the glass and stunned them both.

T'Kir whirled and Macen followed her motion. Boarding hooks had appeared on the foredeck. With much grunting and groaning, two heads appeared. Macen assumed a two handed grip on his phaser and shot one of the Maquis in the head. T'Kir accomplished the same feat with a single handed hold.

The motor of the launch below the yacht's decks could be heard to fire up. Macen and T'Kir rushed up to the foredeck and began firing at the retreating motorboat. Seeing that their efforts were futile, they turned and proceeded to the cabin space. There the yacht's crew was huddled in terrified silence.

"Alert Starfleet Security and the Maritime Patrol." Macen ordered, "We'll secure the prisoners but Starfleet needs to assume custody."

Macen pointed at the captain, "You, contact the resort's Starfleet office. You two," he pointed at the deckhands, "help us with the prisoners."

The two deckhands looked at the captain with horrified silence. She nodded her consent and they hesitantly followed T'Kir into the main cabin. Macen went out on the deck and withdrew a zip tie metal restraint and bound the hands of one Maquis and then the other. He then gathered their attackers' gear and met T'Kir and added his pile to hers.

"It's all Nausicaan gear." Macen observed, "I bet Boromov had a story involving Nausicaan raiders already concocted."

"I'll see what I can pull out of them if they wake up before the Maritime Patrol and Starfleet arrive." T'Kir promised.

Macen grinned. There were definite advantages to having a high level telepath on your side. There were also disturbing things. Macen had seen T'Kir kill with her mind...and enjoy it.

He himself wondered if he occasionally relished the death of an opponent. His Starfleet psych profile certainly said he was wont to. Over the course of his eighty-plus year association with Starfleet, he'd certainly killed on occasion. Since the war, it seemed the occasions just seemed to be presenting themselves in droves.

Macen knew he'd felt rewarded or vindicated by the death of an enemy but he didn't know if that counted as taking pleasure in the event. He knew he'd taken pleasure in the destruction of the USS Pathfinder and in the death of Herbert Spencer and his crew of renegades. He wondered if that made him a monster or the fact that he felt absolutely no remorse did. Regardless of the answer to that question, Macen knew he would continue operating as he always had.

It was one of the reasons that he'd been sidelined out of the mainstream service. He'd served Starfleet with distinction as a privateer. Now he still did but he had a commission on top of it. He knew it was a historical trend for governments and law enforcement bodies to grant rank and title to privateers. He just wished they'd left him alone.

Macen's investigations and operations typically raised a body count that was an embarrassment to Starfleet. Plausible deniability was Starfleet's shield. It enabled the organisation to say they'd never heard of Brin Macen and his crew of privateers. An active commission eliminated that out.

Unfortunately for Macen and T'Kir, the Maritime Patrol and Starfleet arrived before the Maquis assailants had woken. The testimony of the yacht's crew was more than enough to exonerate the couple. After the Patrol left, the captain declared that the entire yacht charter was on the house. Neither Macen nor T'Kir expected another attack. Nevertheless, they stayed awake through the night just in case.

Ian Delaney set his Danube-class runabout down exactly where he'd been instructed to. Having been raised among a shipping family, Delaney was familiar with the touchiness of traffic controllers. He'd been dealing with the intricacies of terrestrial landings since he was literally a child. He'd learned to pilot a shuttle before his twelfth birthday. Thinking of such things, and of his parents subsequent deaths at the hands of raiders touched a dark place in Delaney's heart. It was that darkness that had enabled him to track down his parents' killers and destroy them.

Now Delaney was on a different kind of mission. This was an errand of mercy. Brin Macen and his team needed help and Delaney wanted to provide that help. Macen was a bit of a hero to Delaney. A renegade made good, like Delaney hoped to one day be.

Delaney supposed his original fascination with Macen stemmed from his friendship with Jonathan Striker. His XO's long time association with Starfleet Intelligence made for some fascinating and revealing conversations. Striker had discussed Macen's public record in depth. For this mission, Delaney had been allowed access to Macen's Ultra Top Secret file.

He'd previously gleaned a great deal of it through unnamed sources but the actual record itself was compelling. Delaney had never before seen the extent to which Macen had worked for the SID as a privateer. Even Macen's time away from the SID was impressive. One event was that he'd battled the Orion Syndicate and won.

Now he was in the employ of Starfleet again and had already handled two major cases. For the first, he was "hired" by the Cardassians to root out the resurrected Maquis. This led to the discovery of Omicron involvement. The second case dealt with neutralising the Omicron threat.

Now Macen and his crew had their Starfleet commissions reactivated so they were theoretically bound by Starfleet regulations. Delaney couldn't see that situation working. Macen's group were misfits. They fought for the Federation but they'd never be at home within its boundaries.

Delaney rose from the runabout's cockpit and strolled through the central corridor leading to the runabout's modules. This time out he had two cells set up, an automated med unit and an armoury. He travelled back to the crew's lounge and grabbed his duffel containing his clothes and his phaser.

Delaney was already dressed in civilian clothing. He wore a black V necked tee and grey shorts. He was trying to dress the part of a tourist and had to make do with the limited selections of his wardrobe. Delaney's clothes tended to be reminiscent of his uniform, which he favoured for off duty wear.

He returned to the cockpit and opened the primary hatch. Customs and Resort Security officials awaited him. They scanned his duffel but did not find the phaser thanks to Starfleet Intelligence's latest carrying case. He was still asked to report to Security due to his arriving in a Starfleet runabout.

It was mid morning on Royal Island and Delaney enjoyed the stroll. Marine air lay over the area and the smell of the ocean competed with the lush smells of the nearby jungle. At one corner of the landing area, Delaney could see the Solstice. She dwarfed every other ship parked here. He wondered what the scene would have looked like if Macen had insisted on landing his Nova-class surveyor, the Obsidian.

Delaney entered the Security office and was surprised to see two Starfleet Security officers sitting in there as well. Judging by the equipment, and the officers' comfortable attitudes, the Resort Security personnel shared this space with Starfleet. That meant that whatever malfeasance Resort Security was up to, the Starfleet personnel were in on it. Delaney felt his attitude grow cold.

"Sorry about this," Haywright apologised, "we just need to confirm your identity to insure that the runabout wasn't stolen."

You mean to see if I'm investigating your boss. Delaney thought to himself but openly said, "Of course. My name is Ian Delaney."

"Your rank?"

"Lieutenant Commander, Tactical Division."

"Your current assignment?"

"The USS Intrepid. She's currently under construction at the Utopia Planitia yards. I thought this would be a good time to take some leave."

Haywright smiled, "Of course. And you can begin that leave as soon as we get a reply."

It only took a moment and then Haywright beamed, "Welcome to Risa, Mr. Delaney. Let me know if there's any way I can make your stay more pleasant."

"Thank you." Delaney bowed his head in thanks, "I will."

After Delaney left, the Starfleet lieutenant Harkins approached Haywright, "Jesus Suze, why didn't you just jump his bones?"

"Give me half a chance and I will." Haywright promised.

"Babe, you've been on Risa too long."

Haywright scowled at him, "And you obviously haven't been here long enough."

Delaney checked into his room. He had a coastal view. He dropped his duffel and immediately pulled a set of powered binoculars out of the bag and began sweeping the crowd below. It only took a moment to spot Macen's crew. They sat at a table covered by an umbrella and were enjoying drinks. Delaney assumed they were synthale and not the real thing.

They'd been easy to spot since they were the only ones not wearing beach attire. As he looked more closely, he also saw they were armed. Sweeping the hotel terraces, Delaney's blood froze when he saw the barrel of a "sporting" rifle. It was of Ferengi manufacture and doubled as a sniper rifle. Delaney quickly counted off the number of terraces and floors separating him and the sniper and ran back to his duffel and collected his phaser.

He sprinted to the turbolift and nervously travelled up the two flights to the assassin's floor. The doors opened and he barrelled out of the lift, almost bowling over a young woman and a middle-aged man. Delaney counted off doors as he ran down the hallway. Finally, he reached the appropriate door. Without bothering to alert the killer to his presence, Delaney shot the lock and charged into the room. He careened into the bedroom and saw the assassin place the scope on the rifle.

The killer hefted the rifle and began taking aim and Delaney gave him his first and last warning, "Drop the weapon. You're under arrest."

The assassin pondered this while keeping his target in his sights. Then he spun and dropped the rifle to his hip, trying for a shot at Delaney. Having expected such a move, Delaney fired first. The particle beam, though on heavy stun, caused the assassin to spasm. The movement caused the killer to hit the terrace wall and throw himself over. The rifle stayed on the balcony.

Delaney departed at a much more even keeled pace. He returned to his room with his phaser hidden in his short's pocket. Upon returning to his room, he placed the phaser in its discreet carrying case and then opted for a stroll along the beach. As he walked towards the ocean waves, he passed within earshot of Macen's table. Daggit had just returned there.

"Resort Security is calling it a suicide." Daggit reported, "But the clothes showed a slight phaser residue. Once the local cops saw me with my tricorder out, they shooed me away. They'd identified the man and visited his room. I overheard one of them report to the Chief of Security that a rifle was found there."

"It looks like we have a fifth party involved." Macen surmised, "Whether it's a disillusioned Maquis, Resort Security or Starfleet Security doesn't really matter. It's far more likely to be a second player sent by the Council of Five."

Delaney walked away trying not to think anything overt and reveal himself to T'Kir. Johnson had told him to remain in the background and that's where he was staying. However, T'Kir was reported to be an extremely powerful telepath, at least a Class 3 and rumoured by some to be a Class 4. With only five classifications of telepaths in existence, that amounted to an extreme amount of power.

He was unnerved when she suddenly looked his way. It was more than toward him, it was directly at him. Delaney decided discretion was the better part of valour at that moment and moved on, carefully keeping his mind as blank as possible.

"T'Kir..." Macen said, waving his hand in front of her face, "Is something wrong?"

"The man that had stopped along the boardwalk wall..." she began, "He'd been trained to resist telepathy but his interest in our conversation overrode is psychic shields."

"Was he another assassin?" Macen asked.

T'Kir shook her head, "I don't think so. Actually, I think it was the person that neutralised the last hit man."

"Why didn't he introduce himself?" Radil wondered.

"If he is here on orders from the Council, he's probably in deep cover and forbidden to engage in direct contact with us. If he's a detached party running his own operation, he may be afraid we'll arrest him as well. Did you get any clue as to his allegiance?" Macen enquired.

"Nope." T'Kir answered, "That information was closely guarded. It could have been Vulcan training though. They typically train Starfleet personnel."

"So do the Betazeds, remember?" Macen reminded her.

"Different type of shielding." T'Kir informed him, "It's structured differently. The Vulcan forms are also easier for non-telepaths to learn."

"Good to know." Macen commented and then turned his attention to the entire team, "Are we ready to make a try at Tulley's presumed base?"

There were nods and vocalisations of agreement. Macen smiled, "Hannah, you'll hold the fort here. The rest of us, let's rent some off-road vehicles."

"What d'you mean I can't drive?" T'Kir demanded.

"It's not your turn." Macen replied, "You drove the aircar on Cefas III if you recall. You tore through the city at over 200 kilometres an hour."

"Yeah." T'Kir grinned dreamily, "Wasn't it fun?"

"It also means it's my turn to drive a terrestrial vehicle." Macen said resolutely.

"Fine, fine." T'Kir waved her hands in the air, "If you want to get us killed, you go ahead and drive."

"Thank you." Macen said with certainty, "I will."

"But Rab's letting Jenrya drive." T'Kir sagely pointed out.

"It must be her turn to drive." Macen retorted, "Now get in."

The ATV was essentially a dune buggy designed along similar lines as Starfleet's Argo jeep. The difference being it was a two-person vehicle sitting in a tandem arrangement. It was also completely unarmed. T'Kir crawled into the back and strapped herself in.

With T'Kir secured, Macen opened a channel to Radil, "Is Rab situated?"

"Just locked himself into place."

"Then let's head out." Macen instructed, "Follow my lead."

The two ATV sped down the beach on a strip of dunes reserved for off road traffic. Macen piloted the craft over the dunes and then speeded away for the beachfront. Before reaching the waterline, he banked left and headed down the coast. A Resort Security observer witnessed this and reported it to Haywright.

"Just sit tight." Susan Haywright instructed, "We'll see if they violate the 'No Trespassing" frontier before taking any action."

After breaking the connection with her man on the ground, Haywright contacted Boromov, "Macen and three of his crew are in ATVs headed up the beach. Should I alert Tulley that he might be receiving guests?"

"Astute thinking as always, my dear Susan." Boromov replied with a smile, "I'm certain Mr. Tulley would love to be informed of his potential gate crashers."

"Right away, sir." Haywright replied and signed off.

"Aric's reaction to this bit of news should prove informative." Boromov mused.

It only took a few moments for Tulley to comm Boromov, "What the hell do you mean Macen's headed my way?"

"Your various efforts to kill Macen and his personnel have met with disastrous failure." Boromov observed, "Although most of them remained unidentified, thanks to the efforts of my personnel, your special ops 'specialist' was admittedly identified by her target. A target that survived I might add."

"It's not Deirdre's fault that Kelvan bitch survived. She did what she could." Tulley defended Armstrong.

"I'm not saying it is." Boromov tried to soothe Tulley's fraying nerves, "But it's also your last chance to deal with the situation before it becomes awkward for me and I am forced to intervene. Such intervention will elicit further scrutiny from the SID and I can't afford that right now."

"Why?" Tulley demanded, "What's so important?"

"Wheels are in motion, my friend." Boromov explained, "Wheels that could realise both our dreams."

"That kind of vague response may sit well with your other clients but it doesn't bode well with me." Tulley warned.

"Survive the next few hours and perhaps I will elucidate you further. Good bye."

Boromov cut the line as Tulley's mouth opened to gape.

 


Proceed to Part II

 

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